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Embracing a self-reliant existence

Jessica Saucedo outlines her vision of passing on traditional art forms and teaching communities self-reliance. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Call it leftovers from the hippie movement, a return to the simple life or the partial renunciation of a fast-paced modern world.

Whatever you call it, more diverse groups are embracing folk art traditions of self-reliance.

Saturday, one such pioneer related her efforts in the Bemidji area to members of the Twisted Stitchers Fiber Guild, who are working as a Park Rapids group to revive turn-of-the-century fiber-related skills.

Jessica Saucedo, one of three founders of the Rail River Folk School, spoke of harnessing all the independent movements into a cohesive revival of living off the land and enhancing the market reach of small producers.

But it's not a total rejection of technology, rather a harnessing of it for outreach.

Rail River is using the Internet and social media to cast the net wide, promoting use of sustainable agriculture, bringing producers to a local market and encouraging cities to provide a hub for the goods and services to make those small producers viable.

"It is community education by the community itself," Saucedo said. "It's trust in our common knowledge and the wisdom passed on" from generation to generation.

The school focuses on teaching arts, crafts, food preservation, farming, cooking, land stewardship and conservation, to name a few. An upcoming class will feature "do-it-yourself" burials on private tracts of land.

Eventually it hopes to provide artist mentorships, classes in indigenous planting and gardening, developing a directory of green builders, forming a lending library and offering an entire network of "food sovereignty" outlets, putting old creameries, silos and farm equipment back to work.

"There's a tipping point of economic change, social change, social awareness," Saucedo told the stitchers. "It's getting seed money to sustain our infrastructure," using repurposed materials and passing on skills to kids such as knitting and spinning.

A producer's collective could eventually distribute its own brand of products and form a collective bulk purchasing consortium or group ownership of equipment, she said.

It's all about sweat equity and grass roots organization.

Saucedo, her husband Saul, and their friend Rochell Carpenter, started the school, with their own money and ideas, hoping to branch out.

In doing so, they hope to rethink local commerce, form community networks of distribution and use cottage industries for future economic development.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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